Photo by Diane Cox
Savannah Squires of South Roxana, Zane Schultz of Roxana and Isabella Edwards of Wood River advanced through sectionals to compete in the Play 60: Punt, Pass and Kick team championship competition on Sunday before the Rams faced off with the Arizona Cardinals.
For three local grade school athletes, stepping onto the Rams’ field at the Edward Jones Dome to compete in the Play 60: Pass, Punt and Kick team championship competition was something they couldn’t imagine until it happened.
“This place is huge,” 7-year-old Isabella Edwards of Wood River said as she looked at the field. “It looks big on TV, but it’s bigger than I thought.”
Isabella may have been nervous with cameras and recorders around her, but she felt right at home when she put the football on the stand to take her kick.
“She won her age group by more than 21 feet in the previous round and set a new record at sectionals,” Isabella’s mother and former EA-WR basketball standout Ashley (Russell) Edwards said. “I know she’s a little shy, but she’s all business when she competes in anything. She seemed very comfortable out there on the field. She’s having a blast and that’s what this is about.”
Established in 1961, the program is the oldest NFL youth football program. As a part of the Play 60 initiative, the program is a national skills competition designed to keep children moving through sports activities.
Zane Schultz, 7, of Roxana wore his excitement on his sleeve and took in the sights and sounds while he waited his turn to compete in the age 6 to 7 boys’ group.
“I felt like a little man on a big field,” Schultz said. “I am going to have to grow because someday I want to be a good and famous football player. I would like to be a quarterback, but kicking was a lot of fun, too.”
The oldest of the Greater Alton competitors was 11-year-old Savannah Squires, who simply enjoyed the thrill of competition in the dome.
“I was really nervous at first,” Squires said. “I couldn’t believe I got this far. I love soccer, so I thought I would try kicking a football. I think I did decent today; it was just really fun to be out there and my family is really proud of me for trying my best.”
The winners from Sunday’s competition will move on to compete at nationals Jan. 3 at the home of the Indianapolis Colts before they face the Tennessee Titans. The Pass, Punt and Kick program is free, both to organizers who host a local competition and to every youngster who wants to participate.
With thousands of boys and girls from across the country taking part in the competitions from May through January, it is one of the world’s largest youth sports participation programs.
“This is such a cool opportunity for the kids,” St. Louis County Park and Recreation Manager and Missouri and Illinois Pass, Punt and Kick Chairman Michael Biedenstein said. “We’ve sent kids from the St. Louis region before and a few have gone on to win nationals. The point is to get kids outside and keeping them active. It’s simple; play 60 minutes a day to stay fit and have fun.”
The 40 children who participated Sunday were the winners from local sectional competitions and represent the area’s best.
“Thousands of kids compete every year across the country,” Biedenstein said. “We had thousands compete in our region and these 40 made it to the team championship round. These kids are the cream of the crop. The girls seem to have more fun with the competition. The boys tend to take it super-serious. There are some talented young men and ladies in our area.”
The Rams organization has been a stable partner with the competition, hosting a sectional event at the Rams training facility in Earth City.
“The Rams have been a terrific partner,” Biedenstein said. “They have a fantastic facility and take great care of the kids. All the extras they do for the kids; those are things that are not required from the Rams. The organization goes above and beyond the call of duty. Many of the players take time to encourage, give a high-five and even take a minute to play catch. I know the kids love every minute the players and organization gives.”
For information, visit www.nflppk.com.